“How Patents Became Documents, or Dreaming of Technoscientific Order, 1895-1937”

Eva Hemmungs Wirtén’s first article in the PASSIM-project: “How Patents Became Documents, or Dreaming of Technoscientific Order, 1895-1937” is now published in Journal of Documentation (2019) Vol 75 Issue 3, pp 577-592,. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-11-2018-0193

In it, and based on Paul Otlet’s 1937 image of the mountain range of documents to the left (where patents are one among seven types of informational inclines), she argues:

“Patents are indistinguishable from the
structures of the information age; indeed, they have helped build these structures in the first
place, producing their own administrative and expertise communities, straddling the
national and the international, becoming dependent on systems of classification, sorting and
ordering, as indeed, acting every bit as the social texts that they are.
Simply put, more research is warranted on the embeddedness – historical as well as
contemporary – of patents in informational systems. Such embeddedness has been
constitutive of the patent system for more than a century but still remains




Laboratorium Mundaneum: Powerhouse of Documentation. [December 28, 1937] (Mons, Mundaneum EUM 8694©)

PASSIM seminar: “Microfilm, Law and Scientific Information,” on May 7, 2019

Download pdf-flyer with more info about the PASSIM Seminar on May 7, 2019

Join us for this first PASSIM series of webcasts and webinars. A live webcast of the seminar will be aired online via our own channels.
You will be able to ask our speakers questions in real-time during the webinar. Online participation open for everyone and free of
charge. We encourage you to invite friends or colleagues by sharing this link: www.passim.se
Make sure you follow our twitter for updates! @PASSIMproject
Tuesday, 7 May 2019 15.15-17.00 (CET). Reception to follow. Tvärsnittet, Kopparhammaren, Norrköping.


PASSIMer of the month (Hyo Yoon)

I teach intellectual property and related issues at the Kent Law School. As part of the PASSIM project, I will find out about scientists’ understanding and use of patents as a documentation and information source beyond the legal role of patents as property rights. Understanding the way in which a complex and coded legal writing such as a patent is read, used and employed beyond its intended function, I hope, will reveal how law represents and shapes other systems of knowledge, as well as itself being a distinctive one. The question of media and technique is central in this project, as is a reflection of the reading practices and interpretation of a specific genre.

Academically I have a multi-disciplinary training and background in law, politics, history of science and anthropological theory. This is an unintended result caused by the nature of the questions or problems that I have been interested in: I started out analysing the intersection of human genetics and human rights during my Master’s, then my doctoral dissertation explored the meaning of human person in human gene patents, which then led me to examine how scientific knowledge is represented and ordered in legal classifications, which was the subject my postdoc research. Looking back, one common thread throughout my work has been finding out about the concrete details of knowledge creation and wanderings, as well as abstraction and materiality.

Currently my home discipline is law, but throughout my academic training, I read and learned other disciplinary ‘canons’ and current debates in anthropology, philosophy, political and social theory, history of science, and science and technology studies. With hindsight I am grateful that I was expected to read whole books and/or difficult original primary texts during my school and university years. Realising as a teenager that it takes me a week to read and understand two pages of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason helped me perhaps to work through an introduction into molecular biology textbook when I was doing a PhD. It definitely raised the frustration threshold! Pre-uni I was trained in music, which also involved substantial time and personal commitments, but also made me realise the benefits and drawbacks of an intense formation.

Different questions and issues demand different perspectives and approaches. The PASSIM project brings to the fore that a patent is/can function as public documentation. This in turn raises questions about the nature of publicness, documentation, information – and ultimately, proprietary boundaries. Patent is the ultimate boundary object in so many ways, and it is well approached for its full meaning and implication from multi- or trans-disciplinary perspectives. I am extremely fortunate and excited to be part of PASSIM both from the point of view of my research interests and its perfect fit, as well as having such a lovely group of colleagues to work with.


PASSIMer of the month (Jose)

Currently, I teach Intellectual property law in the same city where Chaucer based his famous medieval tales. I would like to think that if there is a defining feature of my work is eclecticism. My doctoral dissertation was on the history of copyright in Latin America in the late nineteenth century (PhD 2009). I was supervised and influenced by Fiona Macmillan and the wonderful postgraduate community at Birkbeck College, London. Since then, I have been- and I am still- interested in many (too many!) things: music, evidence, registration, scrabble, toys, bureaucracy, etc. Because of that variety of interests, I tend to avoid or to push the clear textbook boundaries within the discipline. Ironically, my last publication is however an edited collection of the disciplinary type that, nevertheless, tried to raise historical questions about the subject: Landmark Cases in Intellectual Property (Hart, 2017). In a sense, I guess, what really keeps me researching on this area of law is somehow an uncanny curiosity around questions surrounding (the history of) copying, representation, publicness, imitation, technology and bureaucratic routines. Perhaps the phrase that captured many of these anxieties and that I would have loved to have written myself is the following (….and I am copying here!): “the history of intellectual property can be seen as one of the law attempting to contain and restrict the intangible – to capture the phantom” (Sherman and Bently, The Making of Intellectual Property, CUP, 1999, 59).

What does it mean for PASSIM? For someone like me who prefers the blurring over the drawing of distinctions, PASSIM offers a great opportunity to discuss questions of copyright/patents in a group of excellent researchers and scholars. My individual project is not just an obvious attempt to discuss the regime overlap but also an attempt to reflect on the historical changes affecting the discipline in the twentieth century.